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California to study role, impact of police at schools

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Posted at 12:51 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-24 16:06:21-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- California’s superintendent of schools announced a new plan to study the role and impact of police on school campuses.

During a Wednesday morning virtual press conference, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he wants to speed up research in examining how police at schools affect students.

“We need to set clear standards that police officer should never be dean of students or disciplinarian for student behavior,” Thurmond said.

Schools may still need police on campus to respond to situations such as active shooters or bomb threats, Thurmond said, but he was clear that officers should never treat students like criminals.

In the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and as people across the U.S. call for systemic change in the role police play in all of our lives, Thurmond is organizing a task force to study police presence at schools.

“We should have more restorative justice programs, focus on de-escalation, programs that focus on intervention that can be done by those who have the ability to use peacemaking skills to reduce violence,” Thurmond said.

San Diego County is no stranger to police-related controversy on local school campuses.

In 2016, a fight at Lincoln High School ended with school police using Tasers and pepper spray on students. One officer and four students were hospitalized, and two students were arrested.

In 2018, a campus police officer slammed a student at Helix High School onto the ground. That student later filed a lawsuit over the incident.

Now, a Change.org petition is calling for the San Diego Unified School District to close its district police department, saying, “Policing schools creates a toxic school climate that attenuates the school-to-prison pipeline and is not necessary to cultivating school safety.”

As of Wednesday, the petition has just over 1,800 signatures.

Federal data shows a slightly disproportionate amount of arrests of minority students within San Diego Unified School District. Data shows 66 percent of arrests are of Black or Hispanic students, even though they only make up 56 percent of the school population.

Thurmond said he wants to look into that issue specifically.

“To make sure that any police officer who is on campus is someone who wants to be on campus, who has chosen to be there, not just been assigned. And there will be training for them in implicit bias, de-escalation and understanding youth development,” Thurmond said.

SD Unified officials have not responded to the petition or Thurmond’s comments, but on the district website, officials said having officers on campus allows them to build relationships with students, teachers, and staff, and better serve the school community.